Sunday 23 December 2012

Christmas shopping round-up: where I spent my money this year

Hello everyone, just a quick post today before all the Christmas celebrations begin!

It's been about five months since we upped sticks from the big smoke of London to settle back in leafy Leicester, and so far we are finding that the change in both location and pace is suiting us very well.  We have our own place which we have now been in for over three months, and while I still have a long list of things I want to do to make it truly 'ours' it is feeling more and more like home these days.  It's been a delight to catch up with friends and family that we didn't get to see as often as we would have liked when we lived in the big city, and while we dearly miss our friends in London we aren't feeling nostalgic about the noise, traffic or crowds!  Chris is getting on really well with his course at University, and I'm finding it much easier to focus on my illustration career without the stress of trying to juggle it with a part-time job.  Moving home has disrupted my productivity somewhat (since there is just SO much stuff to do!) but since we are now just about settled, I'm hopeful that I can produce a lot more work in 2013 to share with you.

When I began looking for Christmas presents at the beginning of this month, I had no idea what goods the local shops might offer.  I was a teenager when I last lived here, and I remember at that time feeling pretty underwhelmed by the shopping in Leicester - the locally owned shops seemed despondent, down-at-heel, struggling after years of being out-competed (on price, though perhaps not on service) by the big-brand stores; while the large chains themselves offered the same soulless, cloned merchandise that you can find on any anonymous UK high street.  Would I still find things as I remembered them, or had the situation changed?

Doubtless, things have been tough the last couple of years for retailers, and as in many other city centres across the country Leicester has more abandoned, empty shop-fronts than anyone would ideally like to see.  However, I am pleased to report that there are also clusters of little independent shops that are fighting back: offering the people of Leicester excellent quality in terms of goods, service, and even value for money.  Here is my gift-hunting hit list for Christmas 2012, cherry-picking the shops where I found my presents this year.  I hope you'll find it useful, either for next year's gifts or if you'll be joining the crowds in a mad dash for presents today and tomorrow!

Frog and Mouse Picture Company

Frog and Mouse offer original artworks, and a large selection of high quality prints.  They seem to get new work in fairly regularly, so if you don't see something you like the first time you visit I'd say it's worth visiting again later.  Obviously, there are some pieces that cost in the hundreds of pounds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the large selection of very reasonably priced prints, many under £100 and others under £50.

019 Sweater Shop
I came here looking for great quality, British-produced knitted goods, and I was not disappointed!  As the name would suggest, they specialise in sweaters but also sell hats, scarves and other items.  Their kid's range is really cute, too.  Just recently they have had 100% wool jumpers and leg warmers in stock, which make great gifts for people who like their clothes to be made with lovely, natural materials.

Just... the Fair Trade Shop
Just... the Fair Trade Shop stocks a wide range of beautiful items: home wares, toys, clothes, jewellery, food, confectionary, even eco-friendly cleaning supplies!  Sadly I found their clothing a little too expensive for my Christmas present budget this year, but lots of the other items were priced very reasonably and are of excellent quality.  My highlights this year include their pairs of patterned socks made from bamboo fibres, as well as lovely hand-sewn Christmas decorations embellished with sequins and beads.

2Clear by Set
Set and 2clear by Set specialise in unusually designed gifts and products.  There are lots of beautiful items, and I was especially impressed by the prices - I picked up some stocking fillers here, some of which only cost between £1.50 and £3 each.  And happily, low prices doesn't mean low quality in this case!  Very handy if you're shopping on a budget.

Dominoes Toys
 Nope, we're not talking pizza!  This is (I am informed) the largest independent toy store in the Midlands, with a huge selection spread over several floors.  They also offer model-making kits as well as arts and crafts supplies.  I came in hunting for a gift for my young nephew: not being a parent myself (and without much experience of toddlers) I had no idea of what might be suitable, but fortunately the helpful staff pointed me in the right direction.


In the summer I read a feature about Mosaic in the Leicester Mercury, and so when December rolled round I decided that it was high time for me to go check them out.  I've found a number of great gifts in this store, and the option to choose your own beads to create a personalised present has a lot of appeal.  If you aren't crafty yourself, you can pay to have one of the staff make the jewellery for you, and you can even bring in items for repair (a service I might make use of in the future!)

Sheehan's Musical Instruments

Sheehan's of Leicester
Sheehan's is a real Leicester establishment, and has been in the city for years.  I don't often have a reason to visit (since I'm not musically talented myself) but the staff are great: friendly, helpful and (since many of them are musicians themselves) very knowledgable about the instruments they offer.

So now that my Christmas shopping is complete, I can put my feet up and relax over the festive period!  Hope you've enjoyed this Christmas round-up of shops, I might make it a feature every year so if you think that's a good idea (or not!) do please let me know in the comments below.  I really appreciate your feedback.

Thanks for reading, see you again next time!

Emma xxx

Monday 8 October 2012

Inspiring India

Hello folks!

Autumn is well and truly here, isn't it?  Time to get those warm socks on and snuggle up cosily with a mug of something warm and comforting.  I love this time of year, though I've been looking back to summer a little this week as I've been finishing up my piece for the Inspiring India bloggers challenge, which is a project organised by Cox and Kings, the world's longest established travel company who specialise in escorted tours and luxury holidays.  Perhaps if you're missing the sunshine you'll enjoy the picture I've been working on too (though all I'm showing for now are little clips, so as not to spoil the surprise).  The piece will debut at the event this Wednesday evening (10th October, 6.30pm - 10pm at the Royal Geographical Society in London) so I shall reveal the whole piece on here sometime after that.  Incidentally, if you want to attend the event there are still some tickets available - just click here to purchase or to find out more about the program for the evening.

Hope you enjoy these little teasers, I would play a another game of 'guess the birdie' with my readers but I think this one is far too easy!  Though very appropriate given the subject matter, I think.  I hope you agree.

That's all for now, thank you everyone for reading!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Summer dreams and Inspiring India

Hello folks!  How are you all?

It's been over a month now since my fiance Chris and I moved away from London, and at last things are beginning to fall into place.  We just got the keys to our new home (a beautiful little Victorian terraced house on the south-eastern edge of Leicester) and are currently organising getting our affects and some furniture in there.  I can't wait to get settled in!  It will take a while before it feels truly ours, but once it's looking presentable I shall certainly share some pictures with you on here.  Both our sets of parents have been fantastic, rallying round offering support, advice, and furniture.  We're already sorted for a sofa, bed and mattress, and my folks have gifted us my great-grandmother's walnut sideboard so we should be very well set up!

Just a week ago we were having a BBQ at a friends house, sipping wine in the afternoon sunshine... just look at it now!  So grey and cold outside - it seems that summer is finally over.  I've been wistfully looking over these photos today, which were taken in June, on my birthday.  Me and Chris decided to celebrate by having ourselves a day out at Hampton Court Palace, and it was so roasting outside that we were relieved to escape inside the cool stone buildings to view the rooms and galleries.  The gardens soon tempted us back out again though; I was very impressed by the abundant, colourful blooms (and besides, there's nothing as wonderful as a rose garden in June!)

The white greyhound of Richmond

The Chapel Court Gardens

Eating ice-cream in the sun

The rose garden


Snap dragons and lavender

That day was so perfect, if I had a time-machine I would revisit it!

I had planned on taking it easy work-wise during my move, but as we all know time stands still for no man... and I'm not one to pass up a good opportunity!  As ever, I've been busy doing illustrations for Making Magazine (you can see all the projects so far on my facebook page) and I have also agreed to take part in an art challenge for creative bloggers called Inspiring India.  The project has been organised by travel company Cox & Kings, who specialise in providing luxury holidays and group holidays.  They challenge the bloggers that they have invited to create pieces of art inspired by the exotic destination of India, which will then be displayed in an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London on the 10th October this year.  I've been doodling some ideas and am looking forward to getting stuck into the illustration properly - wish me luck!

Thank you for reading, hope to see you next time!

Emma xxx

P.S. If you would like to come along to the Inspiring India exhibition, you can purchase tickets for the event here.  It's only £15.00 and includes a lecture by India expert Sir Mark Tully, an exhibition of Indian artefacts and of course, some amazing artwork!  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday 14 August 2012

My illustrations for The Picture Show - full reveal!

I expect a lot of you might have already seen these on my facebook, but I thought it worth sharing the finished pictures on here for the sake of continuity and thoroughness ;D

Nightjar, pencil and watercolour illustration

Cuckoo, pencil and watercolour illustration

Swallow, pencil and watercolour illustration

The last several weeks have been extremely hectic: what with preparations for The Picture Show, invigilating the show itself (always good to have an exhibitor present to big-up the work!), juggling more deadlines for Making Magazine and a move to a different city thrown in for good measure.  The last couple of months have been a physical, mental and emotional challenge, so I'm very relieved that it's all over for now.  The move is not yet fully complete - at the moment we're staying at my folks' home in leafy Leicestershire, with a view to finding a pad of our own close to Leicester city centre later, so that my Other Half can be within walking distance to the university when he starts his course there this October.  We'll get onto flat hunting soon, but for now it's enough just to know that the most difficult part has been overcome and that things will be easier from now on.  This is a time for restoration, relaxation and renewal - until we regain the energy required to start the next adventure!  Please wish us luck, and I wish happy times for all of you reading in return.

Best wishes,

Emma xxx

P.S. As a side note, I thought I'd mention that the Nightjar seemed to be the piece that was best received at the exhibition, a fact that surprised me in the most pleasant way.  I wondered if people would find the colours too drab or gloomy, but they really seemed to like the woodland setting and especially the fungi, moss and lichens.  I guess it has a slightly magical feeling to it (it did to me at least, but then you can never second-guess the sensibilities of your audience) and it made me excited to think about pieces that might have a similar feel or theme.  I'm considering doing a series of insects or invertebrates in the future - and I think this kind of setting would lend itself well to that subject.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Colour teasers for The Picture Show!

Hello, hello everyone!  Well the show inches ever closer - it's now less than two weeks away!  There's still a few things to straighten out, but on the whole we're well on track for a fabulous exhibition.  Hope you can join us for all the celebrations, we're going to need to let off steam after all that hard work.

You've seen the two finished pieces in pencil thus far, but how about in colour?  Well here's a little snippet of each of them...

You can see there's a bird theme going on here, but which ones?  I'd love to hear your guesses, though I couldn't possibly confirm any speculation until the show is open ;D

Anyway, I should get back down to work.  Please wish me luck!

Until next time,

Emma xxx

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Picture Show teasers II

Hi there, how are you?

The opening of The Picture Show is now less than a month away, and us exhibitioners are all working hard to make the show the success we know that it can be.  So to get your arty taste buds tantalised, here are some more teasers of another piece that I'm working on for the show.

There's a similar theme in my illustrations for the show but they each have a different feel to them.  I'm really proud of this piece so far and am eager to get some colour on it!

Hope all is well where you are.  Best wishes,


Monday 4 June 2012

Summer time in County Durham - horses, sheep, cows and a very fluffy dog

Hi everyone, hope you're all well!

Last week I was enjoying the sunshine in rural Country Durham, surrounded by horses, sheep, cows, rabbits... and a very fluffy pet dog (not my own, sadly).  I was visiting my fiance's family and attending the wedding of his youngest brother - I am pleased to say that the ceremony was lovely, and much drinking, dancing and eating was enjoyed by all afterwards.

For now, enjoy some pictures of the lovely countryside surrounding the family home!

Monday 21 May 2012

The Picture Show teasers

Hello everyone, how are you all?  My hectic life continues here in (still not sunny) London and I'm busy working on some new pieces for The Picture Show, which will open at the Coningsby Gallery from the 16th - 21st July.  It promises to be a very exciting show, hope to see you there!

For obvious reasons the whole pieces won't be revealed until after the show opens, but for now, here's a couple of teasers...

Hmm I wonder what it could be, any guesses?  These will all be coloured in due course, the pencil work is taking me ages though because I wanted to have a lot of detail and texture in this piece.  Hope life is good where you are, see you next post!

Best wishes,


Monday 7 May 2012

Spring blossoms and summer plans

Helloooooooooo beautiful people, how are you all?  It's been very busy over here at Emma's illustration headquarters (otherwise known as 'my flat').

There's been more work to do for the lovely ladies over at Making Magazine (you can see all my published work for them so far over here), as well as planning the upcoming summer exhibition of illustration goodness from me and my pals.  Yes, that's right!  We're putting on an exciting, spectacular showcase of new work from myself and 9 other talented illustrators.  It's called The Picture Show - read more about it on the official website here.  And of course, we're on facebook and twitter too so if you have the time to pop over and give us a like, follow or just some words of encouragement then we would appreciate it enormously.

Anyway, onwards to today's business!  So I mentioned earlier this year that I've been working on some pieces that I was, at the time, unable to share with the online public (actually, that's virtually everything I've been working on so far this year... funny how that happens!)  I actually completed the following piece when we were only two weeks into the new year, but because it was destined for a wedding invitation I wasn't allowed to share and spoil the surprise for all the guests.

My lovely friend Anne-Marie wanted a picture of a pair of doves to go on her wedding invitations, and asked me if I would provide.  After some discussion, we decided on this lovely pair of Collared Doves nestled in Cherry-blossoms - aww!  I delivered the piece, and she sent it off to a company to be scanned and added to the wedding invitation design.  The original artwork was included in the fee, for the couple to keep as a treasured reminder of their wedding day.  I hope it hangs in their happy home for many years to come.

Collared Doves and Cherry-blossom illustration

The finished wedding invitation (my picture, but not my design)

Nothing better than a spring wedding!  Well that's all for now, I hope your week brings you lots of fun, love and laughter (and hopefully, some bloody sunshine!)

Best wishes,


Wednesday 14 March 2012

Budgerigars, and why doing a candy themed piece was a challenge

Hello boys and girls, hope you're all having a good week so far!

I thought this post I would share with you some things that inspired me recently, to give an idea where I get the ideas from for my work.  As some of you may know, the deadline for the newest issue of Ballad Of was earlier this month, the theme being 'Candypop': i.e., pink, turquoise and sherbet, sweeties, My Little Ponies...!  The project sounded like too much fun to miss out on - the research alone regressed me back to my childhood years, helplessly drooling over anything pink, glittery and plastic.

And yet, the brief also presented a bit of a challenge - the theme 'Candypop' has inherently synthetic associations and up until now, virtually all of my work has been inspired by the natural world.  The subject matter and therefore colour scheme of my work has always been based on a plant or animal of some kind, and while I do use bright /contrasting colours they don't really have that sherbety, acidic quality that suggests 'Candypop' to me.  So for a while, I struggled to think of a subject that would be suitable for the theme and yet not completely at odds with my existing work.  That is, until I took a trip to visit family in Northwest London, and spotted these little chaps in Pinner Memorial Park!

Cute little budgerigars... with lovely acid, bright, sherbet colours!  I had finally found my inspiration for the project!  Add in some seaside sweetie stall fun, and a final piece was all ready and raring to go.  Unfortunately I won't be able to share that with you until I get the final yay or nay about whether the piece is going in the issue - but here's a couple of little tasters to whet your appetite.

I'm really rather proud of this piece... I can't wait until later in the year when I can share the whole thing with you!  And those wee budgies are SO cute.

Thank you very much for reading, hope to see you next time!

Emma x

Saturday 10 March 2012

Folding Bag illustrations for Making Magazine issue 18

Hello everyone!  Just dropping by to share with you some more pictures for Making Magazine, these ones were in February issue 18 and show how to make a folding bag.  My part was just the pictures, if you want the full article with instructions you'll have to look for it in the mag.  Enjoy!

Thanks very much for reading, I hope you'll join me again next time!

Best wishes,

Emma x

Friday 9 March 2012

Chrissy Wallace's paintings at The Modern Pantry

Hello folks, hope you're having a good week!

So, I've FINALLY gotten round to sharing my pictures from my friend Chrissy Wallace's recent exhibition on here (I was aiming to post them up before the show finished, but sadly I did not manage that...) At any rate, you can see photos of her lovely work in the charming setting of The Modern Pantry restaurant, even if you missed the exhibition.  While I was waiting for the artist herself to arrive and show me round, I took the opportunity to enjoy the unusual buildings of the surrounding area.

I loved the mix of different architectural styles going on - I guess that happens quite a lot in London anyway (since you get places being built and then rebuilt on, over and over) but this part of the city seemed to demonstrate that in a much more concentrated space.  Once Chrissy arrived, we proceeded to the venue (and I can confirm that their brazil nut tart with ice cream is pretty bloody good!)

I hope you agree with me that the pictures look really nice in the space, no?  Thanks so much for reading.  Until next time!

Best wishes,

Emma x